Harnesses have become increasingly popular over the years. In fact, one of the top videos for our site is ‘how to put on a harness’. And for good reason. They are highly useful, effective, and provide extra levels of both security and convenience for both the dog and their human companion.
The first harness we ever purchased was for use in the car. It was essentially a safety belt. Our dog, Sadie, came to work with me every day and we had a 70-mile round trip commute. To not secure your dog in a vehicle is a danger for both the dog and the passengers. If we had ever had to come to a sudden stop or were involved in a crash, it is very likely she would have been ejected through the windshield. Even worse, she could have hit me or another passenger causing additional injuries. Also, even if we all remained contained in the vehicle, a scared or injured dog can delay first responders from providing aid.
We now have two larger dogs. We tease our Malinois about being part husky as her default pace is to pull on her leash just enough to keep us stepping lively. Yes, this is a training and behavior issue we continually work on but started using the harness so she wasn’t choking herself on a basic collar during walks. Our other pup, the Ridgeback mix, has reactive issues. He doesn’t pull on his leash unless another dog starts barking at him, but when he does react a collar is simply not secure or safe enough.
There are basically three kinds of harnesses. Safety harnesses like we used in the car. Walking harnesses for your basic daily activities. And utility harnesses as you’ll see used by working or service dogs. The basic function for all of them requires a safe and secure fit which should not allow the dog to get tangled in or wiggle out of. The design variations of dog harnesses has mostly to do with how much they will be worn and how likely it is that pressure will be applied to the contact points next to your dog.
For example, with the safety harness we used in the car, it’s main function was to restrain the dog from flying forward in the event of a sudden stop or crash. For this, the strap down the center of the chest was very wide and well padded. This would allow the pressure to be safely dispersed and limit additional injuries. Our daily walking harnesses are more simple with basic one-inch-wide nylon straps and a slightly wider and lightly padded chest strap. Working harnesses, like those used with search and rescue or service dogs are a bit of both. It is assumed the dogs will be wearing them for long hours, often leading their handlers around, and at times having to be lifted up and over obstacles, so it is necessary that all the contact points are sufficiently wide and well padded for comfort and safety. They will also often have pockets for carrying medication or other supplies, as well as room for notification and identification badges.
When shopping for your dog harness, consider a few main features.
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Size and Adjustments: A proper fit is essential and starts with your dogs’ neck and chest size. Make sure both can be micro-adjusted for a custom fit. [/list_item]
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Safety Release Buckles: Like we recommend with dog collars, plastic safety buckles, ideally on both sides of the chest strap, will prove to be highly useful with your dog harness. These will allow you to get the harness on and off without requiring your dog to step through or get tangled in the straps. [/list_item]
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Width and Padding: Similar to dog collars, the size, strength, and weight of your dog will help determine the necessary width of the straps and the preferred amount of padding. Also to consider is the functionality. As we mentioned above, our first dog harness was for vehicle travel and served as a safety restraint. It had a very wide and heavily padded chest strap, which was great for this purpose as our dog was mostly sedentary in the back seat, but was less ideal had we used it for walking or other activities. [/list_item]
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Handles and Hardware: Whether is is because your dog is reacting to a perceived threat or you need to lift them up and over an obstacle, a comfortable and secure handle along the back, which evenly distributes the pressure along the chest and shoulder straps is ideal. It should be both easily accessible to you as well as maintain a low profile to avoid getting caught on external objects. All additional hardware, such as the D-rings for attaching the leash should be metal and lie flat when not in use. [/list_item]
[list_item icon=”fa-caret-right” color=”696868″]Materials and Features: Leather looks great and is very durable and if custom designed can be a good choice in unique circumstances, but we would recommend a sturdy nylon-based dog harness for its lighter weight, ability to get wet without harm, cost, and fit. Also, little features like sewn-in reflective straps can be a nice bonus when used in low-light or nighttime settings. [/list_item]
So for whatever reason or purpose you decide to get a dog harness it likely a good idea. We’ve used two different types over the years and still use them on daily basis. Dog harnesses are a superior restraint system than just a collar, and also much better if you need assistance lifting your dog in any manner. They can be attached to seatbelts to keep your pup safe in your car, or helpful when trekking in the outdoors. Just remember that proper fit and padding are key to ensuring the harness doesn’t do more harm than good. Be aware of slack in any part of the harness as well as any pressure points. When you first buy it it will likely take a few minutes to figure out how to put it on, and require a number of adjustments to get a proper fit.